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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Tattoos: The Illustrated Applicant

Think before you ink.

January 13, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Recently, I was lecturing in a criminology class at a nearby university. After the class, a young man began to chat with me about his employment potential with law enforcement agencies. During our conversation I could not help noticing his body art or tattoos.

Today, more and more young men and women are getting inked. Conversely, there is a growing trend with many departments across this nation that have taken stances against visible tattoos on their uniformed officers. Now you know my dilemma with this conversation.

Pre-employment Decision

If you are seeking employment as a law enforcement officer and are considering a tattoo, stop and think. First of all, do some research and determine if the department(s) you desire to apply with have any tattoo regulations. They may not now, but a nationwide trend is emerging. I belong to IACP.net, which is a subscription service for police executives to share information and research. Just today I performed a policy search for tattoos and there are several model policies now nationwide. The phrase that keeps resurfacing is "no visible tattoos while in uniform."

Thinking back to my inquisitive student, he'd stood because of numerous tattoos on his forearms and neck. Many may say that you could just to wear long sleeves and a tie year round. Wrong! Most agencies have uniform policies that dictate when you will wear short or long sleeves, usually according to the seasons. One solution is purchasing arm sleeves that you match to your skin tone, kinda like a tattoo gauntlet. Word is they can be cumbersome, expensive, and great to meet your prospective in-laws in but not great to live in daily.

If you are pre-service, stop and think about your body art and self-expression desires. Are they needs or wants? Tattoos are still taboo in some segments of society. A few people still find them a turn-off. I know this personally. We still must recognize that police are human service providers and role models to society. Anything that visually states the opposite to some can set you back in their eyes.

So, do not jeopardize your opportunities for employment. Getting in the door can be hard enough as it is.

Life Decisions

Whether or not you go into traditional law enforcement you should think fully about obtaining body art. Get the job, then find out the game rules and the departmental culture. The current chief may not care, but a change in administration and you might be looked at with disdain. Another glaring consideration is to be sure that you are on the "PC path." You could easily get a design that may not mean anything to most but could be considered or misconstrued as politically incorrect. Perform your research and get a second opinion.

We are a society of individuals and that in itself makes life what it is. No one department could stand two Harveys (often one can be enough). Yes, you can express yourself with tattoos, but be aware of the consequences. And just because you observe a veteran officer wearing tattoos, this isn't your open invitation. A no-tattoo rule could be a conditional rule of employment now and the veterans might have been grandfathered in.

No, I am not anti-tattoo, I have some myself. Just fully understand the changing times and enjoy your future in law enforcement.

Train hard, train smart, and pass on the knowledge.

Tags: Tips for Success, Off-Duty Life, Professional Image


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

konaron @ 1/13/2009 9:53 PM

When I started in Law Enforcement with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department the policy was that you could have tattoos as long as they were not visible to the public. Several officers found themselves wearing long sleeved shirts during the hot summers that Sacramento is noted for. In the nineties the policy was relaxed, and a few over inked individuals got into the department, and there was a move to go back to the old policy. It failed due to union intervention, but now it can be used to disqualify a potential recruit.

drobbins @ 1/14/2009 6:54 AM

I don't know that the decision to become a police officer is required to have been a life long yearning, but I'm still amazed at applicants who shrug at their recent college drug use or criminal activity as being detrimental to their being hired. I agree with Bill in that tattoos may be more and more of a custom that is gaining acceptance, but it still carries a certain negative connotation, and yes, we are still seen by many as role models; the two just don't mix well. Get your tattoo for your own reasons, but think hard about the placement, becasue the wrong placement will mean you've narrowed down your law enforcement opportunities, and also many other occupational opportunities as well.

law_emt @ 3/20/2009 8:59 AM

Tattoos though a way of expressing one's self could be construed as an extreme turn off. Think are you going to be dealing with the scum of the earth at all times who might open up during an interview because they view you as a kindred spirit. The answer would be a resounding no. You as a LEO not only deal with the scum but are going to have to talk to those wonderful Harvard graduates who will literally look down their noses at you percieving in you the same stereotypes they see in the ones you are supposed to protect them against. Also if one is wanting to get into an undercover position then remeber Tattos are identifiers. We use them to identify a subject and the subject uses them to identify us.

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